Faster than a speeding bullet!
More powerful than a locomotive!
Able to crush prey with one swipe of his hand!
Down in the Sea! Look!
It’s a lobster!
It’s a crab!
…not who you were expecting was it.
The mantis shrimp, also known as stomatopods, are a unique group of crustaceans (think crabs and lobster and other deliciously shelled critters that go well with butter) that are mainly located in tropical and subtropical regions. Although they might not have the same super-human abilities as the red caped wonder, mantis shrimp have a similar range of rather extraordinary powers all their own. The least of which should lend them a well-deserved spot in the Justice League (or as an Avenger if Marvel is more your superhero brand of choice).
Scouting through walls for dangerous foes or taking a sneaky peak through Lois Lane’s dress (bad Superman), X-Ray vision is crucial in the arsenal of any crime-fighting hero. Supermantis doesn’t have X-Ray vision exactly, however he does possesses one of the most complex visual systems of all the beasties in the beastie kingdom.
As impressive as their arms are, the eyes of a mantis shrimp are even more incredible. They are mounted on mobile stalks and can move independently of each other. Mantis shrimps can see objects with three different parts of the same eye, giving them ‘trinocular vision’ so unlike humans who perceive depth best with two eyes, these animals can do it perfectly well with either one of theirs.
Their colour vision far exceeds ours too. The middle section of each eye, the midband, consists of six parallel strips. The first four are loaded with eight different types of light-sensitive cells (photoreceptors), containing pigments that respond to different wavelengths of light. With these, the mantis shrimp’s visible spectrum extends into the infrared and the ultraviolet. They can even use filters to tune each individual photoreceptor according to local light conditions.
The fifth and six rows of the midband contain photoreceptors that are specialised for detecting polarised light. Normally, light behaves like a wave that vibrates in every possible direction as it moves along. In comparison, polarised light vibrates in just one direction – think of attaching a piece of string to a wall and shaking it up and down. While we are normally oblivious to it, it’s present in the glare that reflects off water and glass and we use polarising filters in sunglasses and cameras to screen it out.
Faster than a Speeding Bullet
Among his many notable supercrustacean abilities, Supermantis can apprehend bad guys, or prey if you will, by either spearing them with impaling appendages or bashing their heads in with modified clubs.
These dactyl clubs are harbingers of mass destruction for multiple reasons, the first of which is
that Supermantis can strike faster than a .22 caliber bullet. No joke here. Researchers at UC Berkley were able to clock the peacock mantis shrimp, Odontodactylus scllarus, as the fastest shooter in the seven seas accelerating at approximately 105 m/s2 and reaching striking speeds of 23 m/s.
These extreme movements are made possible by a saddle-shaped spring mechanism (looks like a Ruffles potato chip…with or without ridges…your choice). This special spring allows the shrimp to release a large amount of energy over a small period of time without buckling under the tremendous force. First the spring is loaded and then the mass destruction club latches into place until the opportune moment when the muscle has fully contracted. BOOM. Supermantis unleashes a WWE smack down and let me tell you…you don’t want none of this.
Stronger than a Locomotive
In order to bust through the thick shells of all those thug snails out there, Supermantis must also pack quite a punch. With their initial blow, mantis shrimp can deliver an average shell-breaking force of roughly 693 N (Newtons), which is a great deal considering their small stature (insert size doesn’t matter joke here).
Due to their extreme speeds however, mantis shrimp also knock their prey with a double whammy in a process known as cavitation. Cavitation bubbles form at the site of impact and are caused by rapid flow fields moving at different speeds. This in turn causes a low-pressure region between the mass destruction club and the thug snail’s shell. When these bubbles implode from high pressure weighing in all hell breaks loose in a flurry of heat, light, and sound. The energy generated from this cataclysmic cavitation bubble generates an impact of approximately 348 N. Not bad for a little bubble.
Combined these forces are used not only to incapacitate prey and excavate rocks in the Fortress of Solitude, but have also been known to shatter glass kryptonite (aquariums to the unknowning) when silly humans think Supermantis can be contained.
Impervious to Harm
From moving at speeds only captured on high-speed cameras to striking with shell-breaking forces, how does Supermantis perform such feats without breaking themselves? This would be the equivalent of you punching a brick wall and not shattering your hand. Impossible you say?
Not for the “Man-tis of Steel.”
In a recent paper published in Science, researchers explored the biological make-up of the mass destruction club in order to gain insight on its ability to withstand thousands of high-energy smashing events.
What they found is that these clubs are comprised of three critical regions, each with their own unique configuration. The impact region is the hard outer region that takes the brunt of the hit and as such is made up of a bone-like substance known as hydroxyapatite, a highly crystallized mixture of calcium phosphate. Beneath that, the periodic region is comprised of a helix-formation of chitin bundles that absorbs much of the impact and keeps internal cracks in the shell from spreading. Lastly, the striated region is similarly composed of chitinous fibers that add yet another boundary from further crackage. Each region has a specialized mineral composition with varying levels of calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium. Collectively, these features combine to form one tough biological crime fighting machine.
Like all memorable superheros, Supermantis is doing his part to help humanity. Dr. David Kisailus and his team of chemical and environmental engineers at UC Riverside have taken a keen interest in the damage tolerant clubs of our caped crustacean crusader. Kisailus looks to such biological marvels to create improved synthetic materials for use in making lighter cars and jets as well as stronger body armors.
Needless to say, when it comes to fighting the scourge of the deep, Aquaman can call on a new partner in maintaining justice and peace in the underwater realm.
Patek, S.N. and Caldwell, R.L. Extreme impact and cavitation forces of a biological hammer: strike forces of the peacock mantis shrimp Odontodactylus scyllarus. The Journal of Experimental Biology 208 (2005): 3655-3664.
Patek, S.N., Korff, W.L., and Caldwell, R.L. Deadly strike mechanism of a mantis shrimp. Nature 428, (2004): 819-820.
Weaver, J.C. et al. The stomatopod dactyl club: A formidable damage-tolerant biological hammer. Science 336, (2012): 1275-1279.
Yong, Ed. Mantis shrimps have a unique way of seeing. Not Exactly Rocket Science. 2008.